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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
18/10/2016
Estimates
AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES PORTFOLIO
Fisheries Research and Development Corporation

Fisheries Research and Development Corporation

[10:25]

CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Hone and Mr Wilson.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Can you tell me what your current staffing numbers are at the FRDC?

Dr Hone : Thank you for the question. Our current staffing members that FRDC fluctuate so, at the moment, our numbers are 21.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Is that 21 permanent full-time?

Dr Hone : They are not permanent. We have contract short-term staffing numbers, so 21 is the number.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What are they?

Dr Hone : It is 21 but they are not—

Senator CAROL BROWN: In what capacity are they employed?

Dr Hone : Some of them are on a one-year contract; some of them are on a two-year contract.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How many of those staff members will be relocated to Adelaide?

Dr Hone : FRDC did not relocate.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Oh you have not? Are you relocating?

Dr Hone : No, FRDC has been going through an organisational design. This has been going for some time, nearly three years.

Senator CAROL BROWN: For how long?

Dr Hone : It has been going for about three years. We finalised it all in February this year. The board approval was in November 2015. The final decision was to open a new office in Adelaide and that reflected the fact that our industry has been becoming much more capable of undertaking its own research. So we have been trying to establish expertise in regional areas and we have opened Adelaide as a first step.

One of the other things that we have been doing is, because we are now taking on a marketing role, looking for a partner so we have opened the office with Wine Australia. Obviously there is a linkage between seafood and wine and we see that as a logical step. Wine Australia has a lot of experience in marketing, so we have opened this office with six staff members in Adelaide. That is why our numbers are increasing. Our numbers are also increasing because gross value of production has gone up quite a lot in the last two years with the Australian fuel prices, the Australian exchange rates—

Senator CAROL BROWN: Sorry to interrupt—

Dr Hone : So the answer is we did not relocate.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I just want to clarify, you opened a new office in Adelaide?

Dr Hone : We opened a new office, yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Obviously the government was indicating that there would be a relocation to Adelaide but you have opened this new office in Adelaide. So the 21 staff that you mention, do they include the six in Adelaide?

Dr Hone : That is correct.

Senator CAROL BROWN: You indicated that that was a first step or first stage?

Dr Hone : Yes, that is right. Our goal is to provide more regional presence. You might want to call it decentralisation but the goal is to have more of our staff members in different areas. One of the areas that we have been looking at is the north, we are looking further in the west and we are trying to do that in a structured approach. Our goal is to deliver better services to our industry. When we use the word 'industry', we have also got Indigenous, commercial and recreational. Commercial is both wild catch and aquaculture. So it is about delivering a better service.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So those areas that you are looking at, are they going to be in the capital city like Adelaide or they that actually going to be out in the regions?

Dr Hone : At the moment one of the offices we are looking, possibly, to put some people into is in Port Stephens, which is a coastal place in New South Wales. But it is really about delivering the business unit in the appropriate place for where we have the service that we are trying to deliver.

Senator CAROL BROWN: And is that the only location that has been identified to look at?

Dr Hone : At the moment that is the possible one. As I said, we are going through quite a lot of change. With this organisational change of bringing marketing functions in and changing the way we deliver our research, which is much more regionally based, we are not rushing. We have a very strong reputation for research delivery. We do not want to threaten our research delivery processes by changing it much.

Our industry tend to be relatively conservative. They do not like rapid change and we are mindful of that. Also, we do not actually have levies. We are all on voluntary contributions. When you are on voluntary contributions you tend to have to be relatively nimble and make sure that you are not losing track of who pays the money. It is about making sure that we keep on track with our industry.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Have you set yourself a time line in terms of opening other offices?

Dr Hone : No.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Given that you have voluntary payments, there is obviously a lot of consultation with your stakeholders.

Dr Hone : Correct.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How has that been carried out in terms of opening new offices?

Dr Hone : In some ways we are quite lucky. For the commercial part of our industry we have quite good visibility of who they are. They all have to be licensed because they work in a public resource. They are working commercially in marine estates et cetera. There is quite a structured process, in particular around wild fisheries. It is probably fair to say that with the rec sector, and also with the Indigenous sector, it is not quite as easy to consult. To date, the consultation process has been going very well, but the nature of fisheries is that literally you are consulting on almost a daily or weekly basis on fisheries matters. Research tends to be, in fisheries, a very active part of how we work, whether it is a stock decision or decisions about what is happening with the marine environment. It is just part of our general operational principles. We are consulting a lot.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I will just go back to the new office in Adelaide. Did the six staff members there come from Canberra, are they new, or a mix?

Dr Hone : As part of the structural reorganisation that we did we decided to create what we call regional advisory committees. As part of developing the regional advisory committees we put four people, of which two were actually job sharing, in charge of managing it. In putting those people all in one area, half of that group manage what we call the northern group—so, WA, NT, Queensland and New South Wales, though you would say New South Wales is getting a bit far—and then the other half of the team are managing South Australia, Commonwealth fisheries, Victoria and Tasmania. By having them together working with those regional committees our long-term goal is to get better connectivity between regions, in terms of how they do research, to make savings. If you take, for example, the southern states, they all share southern rock lobster as a fish. It makes sense that we manage it across Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia rather than doing it in one area. It is all about trying to develop better savings.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Sorry; my question was, I think: how many staff went from Canberra to Adelaide?

Dr Hone : We opened a new office. There were no new—

Senator CAROL BROWN: So they were all new?

Dr Hone : Yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: That was my question. What are the costs with the new office?

Dr Hone : The cost of the new office—

Senator CAROL BROWN: And is that shared 50-50 with the wine industry?

Mr Wilson : We pay Wine Australia a lease fee—

Senator CAROL BROWN: Oh, you moved in with them.

Mr Wilson : and it is about $15,000 a year.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Wine Australia?

Mr Wilson : Yes.

Dr Hone : Wine Australia are a fellow R&D corporation. They do not subsidise us.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I understand that. So you moved into their building?

Dr Hone : Correct.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What other ongoing costs do you have?

Dr Hone : The only ongoing costs are the costs for those six new people.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So the $15,000 for electricity, furniture—

Dr Hone : It is the total lease cost.

Senator CAROL BROWN: It is for everything?

Dr Hone : Yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: You only have 15 staff currently in Canberra. Is that right?

Dr Hone : Correct.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I think that is all I have.

Senator McCARTHY: In terms of your decision to move to Adelaide, why did you choose Adelaide?

Dr Hone : We did not make a move to Adelaide. We opened—

Senator STERLE: You wanted to go to Hobart.

Senator McCARTHY: Why not Darwin?

Senator BACK: Or Perth?

Dr Hone : It might be that we end up with an office in northern Australia—

Senator STERLE: That is a good idea.

Dr Hone : That could happen. We have a lot of activities, and quite positive activities, happening in fisheries and aquaculture in northern Australia, and that is one of the opportunities we have been looking at. Where the office would be—whether it would be in Broome, Darwin, Karratha or over in Queensland, in Cairns or Townsville—I do not know, but we will be watching and trying to work out the best way to deliver our service.

Senator McCARTHY: Is that long-term planning or is that something that you are working on right now?

Dr Hone : The board is committed to creating a more decentralised process for how we deliver our services to the regions. But we are not rushing to do this. The first one was Adelaide. The next one we are possibly looking at is Port Stephens, but that still has not been decided. So we are just going through a process. As I said, our industry is very conscious of costs. We have to justify every dollar. If we open a new office, we have to demonstrate that it is not going to impact on the total R&D spend, that we are going to deliver a better service.

Senator McCARTHY: How many of your staff are Indigenous?

Dr Hone : Zero. There are no Indigenous staff.

Senator McCARTHY: Given that you are obviously working in areas with Indigenous communities, have you got any plans in relation to working with them?

Dr Hone : Since we are talking about fisheries, I have to tell you that we have—you would probably know because you come from some of these areas—

Senator McCARTHY: We have lots of fish where I come from.

Dr Hone : You do. We have an amazing group called the Indigenous Reference Group, which is chaired by Stan Lui in the Torres Strait. It is all Indigenous. They just met recently and they have lots of different things that they are trying to work on. There is obviously economic self-sufficiency in terms of their research. Then they are trying to look at opportunities for them in terms of some of their cultural activities. They have a really nice project on the river Murray at the moment looking at some of the cultural aspects of fisheries. I do not know if you know Professor Stephan Schnierer over in New South Wales, but he is an Indigenous academic. We have been doing a lot of work with Indigenous people. It is fair to say that, compared to our traditional wild catch, traditional aquaculture and recreational fishing, our Indigenous research is quite a long way behind. It is one of those areas that we are very keen to improve.

Senator McCARTHY: Do you engage at all with Indigenous rangers who are working in the fisheries area?

Dr Hone : Yes. We work very closely with people like Bo Carne at NT Fisheries. We have had scholarships with the traditional groups who are delivering a range of programs. We are very strong supporters of the science component, as you are probably aware. There has been quite a lot of work done recently with NT Fisheries and with other areas about using rangers to collect quite a lot of really useful science data. That is what I am talking about when I say we are integrating traditional and Indigenous knowledge into fisheries management, because they have a very good understanding of the environment and what is happening with fish stocks. We do not do it well in those areas where the traditional people are present, and so that is something we are very keen to progress.

Senator McCARTHY: How soon would you look at progressing it?

Dr Hone : In some fishery stocks it is already happening. If you look at some of the stocks in, for example, the Northern Territory we are already getting quite good information coming through from those Indigenous programs run principally through the ranger program to get data. That is happening. It is about making sure that that data is actually the correct data for what the fisheries people are trying to correct. That is already happening. We would like to see it spread beyond the Northern Territory into other areas. That is one of our goals.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Was the location of Adelaide announced by the government?

Dr Hone : When the government was making the announcements for GOEC for their hub and spoke, with RIRDC with their move, they announced that we were opening a new office in Adelaide.

Senator CAROL BROWN: At the back of my mind I thought the announcement was made by Senator Colbeck for Hobart. Is that not right?

Senator Ruston: To the best of my knowledge the decision that was made for the location of the additional office in Adelaide was the first announcement in relation to an additional office for the FRDC.

Senator STERLE: I think it follows the minister at the table.

Senator Ruston: I would just like to put on record the amazing fishing industry we have in South Australia and also congratulate Tasmania for having an amazing industry—as does Western Australia and everywhere.

Senator CAROL BROWN: When did the Adelaide office actually open?

Dr Hone : The first staff person started in January this year. We finalised all the appointments by 1 May this year.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Are they all there?

Dr Hone : They are all there.

Senator CAROL BROWN: It is at full operational powers then?

Dr Hone : Correct.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How long is the lease with Wine Australia?

Mr Wilson : It is ongoing. We signed up to a year in the first instance and it will be reviewed at the end—

Senator CAROL BROWN: It is such a good deal and you only signed for a year?

Dr Hone : If we could get more space in Wine Australia we would. Part of this is about building capability around each other. For example, one of the things we have been very keen to do is get some of the executive officers from some of the fishing people to also locate to that area so that we get a fair degree of connectivity. At the moment we are just a bit constrained that grape and wine, or Wine Australia, do not have any more capacity than six for us.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So potentially you might move?

Dr Hone : No. We believe there will be some restructuring happening there from non-R and D corporations and that there could be some opportunities for extra space.

Senator CAROL BROWN: When does the one-year lease expire?

Mr Wilson : I need to confirm the date on that. Can I get back to you on that?

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes, absolutely. Thank you, Chair.

Senator BACK: As to my fishing mates, you were saying that you rely on voluntary levies. Most of them would not make a donation to the widow of the unknown soldier. Can you tell me: if you do not impose levies how do you, firstly, receive funding from the fishing industry and, secondly, how do you then approach government for a contribution to match the contribution from industry?

Dr Hone : First of all, we do have one levy, and it is with the Australian Prawn Farmers, through the traditional levy system.

Senator BACK: The prawn farmers?

Dr Hone : Just the prawn farmers. Everyone always wants to say the industry is different. I think we probably have some justification in saying the fishing and aquaculture industry likes to be different. Every one of our voluntary collection methods has unique properties. Let us take the Atlantic salmon industry in Tasmania. The way they collect their money is that they impose a voluntary component on their feed bill. So when they buy feed—

Senator BACK: They impose a 'voluntary' component?

Dr Hone : That money goes from the two feed companies to the Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association. The Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association rings John up and asks, 'How much money can we get matched this year?' or 'How much money do we have in terms of our R and D bill that we are going to be paying?'

They then send that money to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, that money gets matched, and then it comes to us. So that example is from salmon. In South Australia—

Senator BACK: From a research prediction point of view, how far in advance of a year's research program do you know what that sum of money is going to be, and therefore what total sum of money you can expect to expend in research?

Dr Hone : It is a good question. At the moment, we are getting about 140 per cent of the money that can be matched—so our industry contributes more than can be matched. We have been working with these industries since 1991. We have such a long-term relationship with them and we have got such a good relationship that, subject to maybe only things like a fisheries collapse or a major disease issue, we have not had an interruption to that money, so the voluntary works well. A lot of the industries will flag things to us if there is a problem. For example, if they are going to get a declining catch, or if there is a market issue, they will flag it to us and we try to average out that loss in revenue so it does not impact their future R&D programs.

Senator BACK: By way of further explanation, can I ask about the West Coast Rock Lobster Fishery and the aquaculture industry: how do they make their contributions?

Dr Hone : Western rock lobster is a different case. They are a great client. In WA, the government invoices the industry for a bill of 5.75 per cent of the GVP—gross value of production—in WA. And so all the lobster fishermen get a bill which includes this 5.75 per cent, and 0.25 per cent of that 5.75 per cent comes to us through the WA government. That is how we collect it in WA. As I said, we have different mechanisms in different states.

For aquaculture it varies. As I said, prawn farmers have a levy; in the tuna industry, Brian Jeffries has a conversation with us and asks us just how much he needs to send us—they have their own money that they collect as their association; the oyster industry have a voluntary spat for Pacific oysters on all the hatchery spat; for barramundi, they just ring us up and ask us how much they need to send us—all of them have different relationships.

Senator STERLE: What about crayfish?

Dr Hone : For rock lobster in WA it is just 5.75; in South Australia is a different mechanism, in Victoria it is a different mechanism.

Senator STERLE: Is it compulsory or voluntary?

Dr Hone : In South Australia it is voluntary. I would say in WA it is compulsory, because of the nature of the 5.75—it is a government impost.

Senator BACK: I have two final questions, just quickly because I know time is against us. One is answered by the fact that you know everyone because they are all registered, so that is not an issue. The other question is how do you satisfy yourselves, and ultimately government and us, of the effectiveness of the research spend and development spend?

Dr Hone : This is not an industry that is quiet; they will quickly tell you. Because of the nature of fisheries, you are literally meeting with the fishery or their fisheries association representatives maybe every couple of months, and they will be giving you feedback. So this week, for example, we are meeting with the southern rock lobster industry and there are meetings with the oyster industry; last week it was meetings with Indigenous industry people, which was the Indigenous meeting. Literally, are we are meeting with them regularly, and they will tell us if our research is off. I have to say, one of the goals with fisheries though is that you do not want to be too tactical. You do want to be relatively strategic, otherwise you will be chasing yesterday's research issue.

Senator BACK: I deal with WAFIC a lot, and I have tell you that your reputation is very, very high there.

Senator RICE: Having established a new office in Adelaide, have your staff numbers in Canberra stayed the same since the change?

Dr Hone : No, they went up.

Senator RICE: How many staff did you have in Canberra prior to your—

Dr Hone : We have not obviously done any relocation—

Senator RICE: No, you have established an office.

Dr Hone : Let us say the time we did the office removal. We have actually gone up by about two new extra staff. That reflects the fact that we are trying to build better data for the marketing component of our business.

Senator RICE: Did that function stay in Canberra?

Dr Hone : At the moment that function is staying in Canberra.

Senator RICE: I am interested in the functions that you have chosen to keep in Canberra and that you have not gone down the track of the other RDCs. What functions are staying in Canberra and what functions do you expect to stay in Canberra for the foreseeable future?

Dr Hone : At the moment business group is in Canberra. All our business area, including our communications, is in Canberra. Half of our programs is in Canberra and the other half is in Adelaide. That is it.

Senator RICE: Given the government's objectives and that other RDCs are decentralising, why have you chosen to keep those functions in Canberra?

Dr Hone : At the moment with the nature of fisheries, because we are national, business makes sense because we have to talk to the department a lot with the—we are only talking two and a bit people there. Because the comms people have to work nationally and have to do all their stuff nationally it just makes sense. We have been looking at a regional component to our comms but we are not sure whether the best thing to do is to internalise that as a start or actually try to build greater capacity with our research providers. So we are still working through that particular activity.

Senator RICE: So they are the reasons that you see those functions continuing indefinitely in Canberra.

Dr Hone : The one that we are still questioning is the marketing function. We have two really very exciting marketing programs. One is the love strand prawn campaign and the other one is the Australian wild abalone campaign. It could be that they would be better suited to be delivered closer to those activities. With the Australian wild abalone campaign, because Tasmania is such a strong abalone state, it might be that it makes sense to deliver it closer to that state's delivery.

Senator RICE: Before you decided to establish your office in Adelaide, Did you establish any criteria as to what you are trying to get out of that move and some objective criteria to determine whether it has been a successful move?

Dr Hone : Yes, we did. One of the things we have been trying to do is get better collaboration across jurisdictions. The biggest criteria for us is joint projects between South Australia and Victoria or between Queensland and WA. They are objectives. That is how we are trying to measure this; it is getting better collaboration between jurisdictions.

Senator RICE: So you are objectively measuring against those criteria.

Dr Hone : Correct.

Senator RICE: Did you do a cost benefit analysis before you decided to establish your office in Adelaide?

Dr Hone : We did not need to do a cost benefit. What we did do, though, was an organisational redesign process where we went through how is the best way to deliver the services. We did consult extensively about these new regional advisory committees to work out what the best way to do that.

Senator RICE: Is that a public document?

Dr Hone : I think we have—it is called Fisheries Research Advisory Body review. I believe it is on our website.

Senator RICE: Take it on notice.

Dr Hone : I will take it on notice but I am pretty confident—our industries watch us very closely.

Senator RICE: If we could get a copy of it or a link to where it is that would be appreciated.

Dr Hone : Easy.

CHAIR: Dr Hone and Mr Wilson, thank you for your attendance. If you need any objective input as to whether wine and fish go together, the deputy chair and I would volunteer our already tortured bodies to avail ourselves in any research that you need to do!

Dr Hone : We have a great flavour wheel, if you ever want to see that. We have been copying the wine industry and developing our new seafoods flavour wheel. I'll send you a copy.

CHAIR: We will look forward to that. I just want to make a personal comment. I found your presentation here today, apart from being very competent, an exciting example of how industry seems to be able to get itself together. I think your crowd are a model that is worth watching.

Dr Hone : Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you for your time and input.